"Choose! Speak! When the sun has dipped below the sea, it will be toolate!" The glory of the dying sun seemed to light up Margaret's face,till it shone as if lit from within by a noble light, as she answered:
Then stepping over to where the mummy cat stood on the little table,she placed her hand on it. She had now left the sunlight, and theshadows looked dark and deep over her. In a clear voice she said:
"Were I Tera, I would say 'Take all I have! This night is for the Godsalone!'"
As she spoke the sun dipped, and the cold shadow suddenly fell on us.We all stood still for a while. Silvio jumped from my arms and ranover to his mistress, rearing himself up against her dress as if askingto be lifted. He took no notice whatever of the mummy now.
Margaret was glorious with all her wonted sweetness as she said sadly:
"The sun is down, Father! Shall any of us see it again? The night ofnights is come!"
The Great Experiment
If any evidence had been wanted of how absolutely one and all of us hadcome to believe in the spiritual existence of the Egyptian Queen, itwould have been found in the change which in a few minutes had beeneffected in us by the statement of voluntary negation made, we allbelieved, through Margaret. Despite the coming of the fearful ordeal,the sense of which it was impossible to forget, we looked and acted asthough a great relief had come to us. We had indeed lived in such astate of terrorism during the days when Mr. Trelawny was lying in atrance that the feeling had bitten deeply into us. No one knows tillhe has experienced it, what it is to be in constant dread of someunknown danger which may come at any time and in any form.
The change was manifested in different ways, according to each nature.Margaret was sad. Doctor Winchester was in high spirits, and keenlyobservant; the process of thought which had served as an antidote tofear, being now relieved from this duty, added to his intellectualenthusiasm. Mr. Corbeck seemed to be in a retrospective rather than aspeculative mood. I was myself rather inclined to be gay; the relieffrom certain anxiety regarding Margaret was sufficient for me for thetime.
As to Mr. Trelawny he seemed less changed than any. Perhaps this wasonly natural, as he had had in his mind the intention for so many yearsof doing that in which we were tonight engaged, that any eventconnected with it could only seem to him as an episode, a step to theend. His was that commanding nature which looks so to the end of anundertaking that all else is of secondary importance. Even now, thoughhis terrible sternness relaxed under the relief from the strain, henever flagged nor faltered for a moment in his purpose. He asked usmen to come with him; and going to the hall we presently managed tolower into the cave an oak table, fairly long and not too wide, whichstood against the wall in the hall. This we placed under the strongcluster of electric lights in the middle of the cave. Margaret lookedon for a while; then all at once her face blanched, and in an agitatedvoice she said:
"What are you going to do, Father?"
"To unroll the mummy of the cat! Queen Tera will not need her Familiartonight. If she should want him, it might be dangerous to us; so weshall make him safe. You are not alarmed, dear?"
"Oh no!" she answered quickly. "But I was thinking of my Silvio, andhow I should feel if he had been the mummy that was to be unswathed!"
Mr. Trelawny got knives and scissors ready, and placed the cat on thetable. It was a grim beginning to our work; and it made my heart sinkwhen I thought of what might happen in that lonely house in themid-gloom of the night. The sense of loneliness and isolation from theworld was increased by the moaning of the wind which had now risenominously, and by the beating of waves on the rocks below. But we hadtoo grave a task before us to be swayed by external manifestations:the unrolling of the mummy began.
There was an incredible number of bandages; and the tearing sound--theybeing stuck fast to each other by bitumen and gums and spices--and thelittle cloud of red pungent dust that arose, pressed on the senses ofall of us. As the last wrappings came away, we saw the animal seatedbefore us. He was all hunkered up; his hair and teeth and claws werecomplete. The eyes were closed, but the eyelids had not the fiercelook which I expected. The whiskers had been pressed down on the sideof the face by the bandaging; but when the pressure was taken away theystood out, just as they would have done in life. He was a magnificentcreature, a tiger-cat of great size. But as we looked at him, ourfirst glance of admiration changed to one of fear, and a shudder ranthrough each one of us; for here was a confirmation of the fears whichwe had endured.
His mouth and his claws were smeared with the dry, red stains of recentblood!
Doctor Winchester was the first to recover; blood in itself had smalldisturbing quality for him. He had taken out his magnifying-glass andwas examining the stains on the cat's mouth. Mr. Trelawny breathedloudly, as though a strain had been taken from him.
"It is as I expected," he said. "This promises well for what is tofollow."
By this time Doctor Winchester was looking at the red stained paws."As I expected!" he said. "He has seven claws, too!" Opening hispocket-book, he took out the piece of blotting-paper marked by Silvio'sclaws, on which was also marked in pencil a diagram of the cuts made onMr. Trelawny's wrist. He placed the paper under the mummy cat's paw.The marks fitted exactly.
When we had carefully examined the cat, finding, however, nothingstrange about it but its wonderful preservation, Mr. Trelawny lifted itfrom the table. Margaret started forward, crying out:
"Take care, Father! Take care! He may injure you!"
"Not now, my dear!" he answered as he moved towards the stairway. Herface fell. "Where are you going?" she asked in a faint voice.
"To the kitchen," he answered. "Fire will take away all danger for thefuture; even an astral body cannot materialise from ashes!" He signedto us to follow him. Margaret turned away with a sob. I went to her;but she motioned me back and whispered:
"No, no! Go with the others. Father may want you. Oh! it seems likemurder! The poor Queen's pet...!" The tears were dropping from underthe fingers that covered her eyes.
In the kitchen was a fire of wood ready laid. To this Mr. Trelawnyapplied a match; in a few seconds the kindling had caught and theflames leaped. When the fire was solidly ablaze, he threw the body ofthe cat into it. For a few seconds it lay a dark mass amidst theflames, and the room was rank with the smell of burning hair. Then thedry body caught fire too. The inflammable substances used in embalmingbecame new fuel, and the flames roared. A few minutes of fierceconflagration; and then we breathed freely. Queen Tera's Familiar wasno more!
When we went back to the cave we found Margaret sitting in the dark.She had switched off the electric light, and only a faint glow of theevening light came through the narrow openings. Her father wentquickly over to her and put his arms round her in a loving protectiveway. She laid her head on his shoulder for a minute and seemedcomforted. Presently she called to me:
"Malcolm, turn up the light!" I carried out her orders, and could seethat, though she had been crying, her eyes were now dry. Her fathersaw it too and looked glad. He said to us in a grave tone:
"Now we had better prepare for our great work. It will not do to leaveanything to the last!" Margaret must have had a suspicion of what wascoming, for it was with a sinking voice that she asked: